By now, Daniel had been in Afghanistan two months. It was July 2012, his third tour of duty and his first with Oogie, his military working dog. They were leading their platoon on yet another patrol, clearing a no-name village with maybe 15 houses and one mosque, when they began taking fire.
“The first thing that went though my mind,” he says, “was, ‘S- -t. My dog’s gonna get shot.’ ”
It was a perfect L-shaped ambush, bullets coming from the front and the right, the platoon pinned down in a flat, open landscape. Along the road were shallow trenches, no more than 14 inches deep. Daniel grabbed Oogie, squeezed him in a hole, then threw himself over his dog.
It went against all his Army training. “They tell us it’s better for a dog to step on a bomb than a US soldier,” he says. The truth is Daniel, like just about every other dog handler in the armed forces, would rather take the hit himself.
Five weeks into their training, Daniel and Oogie were inseparable. They showered together. They went to the bathroom together. When Daniel ran on the treadmill, Oogie was on the one right next to him, running along.
That week, Daniel got Oogie’s paw print tattooed on his chest.
“The few times you safeguard your dog are slim compared to what he does every time you go outside the wire,” Daniel says. “That’s your dog. The dog saves you and saves your team. You’re walking behind this dog in known IED hot spots. In a firefight, the dog doesn’t understand.”